American Pharoah is unanimous choice for 2015 Horse of the Year

American Pharoah, with Victor Espinoza up, won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland opn Oct. 31, 2015, in Lexington.
American Pharoah, with Victor Espinoza up, won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland opn Oct. 31, 2015, in Lexington. Associated Press

Among the many hallmarks of American Pharoah’s career on the track is that he left no room for doubt.

His authoritative assault on the American classics ended the question of whether the current-day Thoroughbred was capable of sweeping the Triple Crown. His transcendent appeal silenced those who wondered if racing could still move mainstream masses. Even his final career outing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was a glorified procession.

When the results of the 45th annual Eclipse Awards were announced Saturday at Gulfstream Park, even contrarians could not argue with what American Pharoah achieved last season. Zayat Stables’ homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile was unanimously crowned the 2015 Horse of the Year as well as champion 3-year-old male, garnering all 261 first-place votes in both categories.

American Pharoah joins John Henry (1981) as the only horses to unanimously be named Horse of the Year since the Eclipse Awards were established in 1971. Of the 281 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters and Daily Racing Form, 261 (92.88 percent) took part in this year’s voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections, using a 10-5-1 point basis. Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first-place votes.

In becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, in setting the North American record for single-season earnings with $8,288,800, there was no disputing that the bay colt with the silken stride was unlike anything the sport had seen in decades.

And so, nearly every remaining piece of hardware that could come his direction was bestowed Saturday night. His Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, earned his fourth Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer and first since 1999 as he received 200 first-place votes.

Zayat Stables, which bred and campaigned American Pharoah, were named both Outstanding Owner and Outstanding Breeder, earning their first Eclipse Awards in those categories.

“Every trainer in this room, we dream of a horse like American Pharoah,” Baffert said. “He was a gift from god.”

Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah’s regular rider, was the only one of the team denied an Eclipse Award as Javier Castellano earned his third consecutive honor for Outstanding Jockey.

American Pharoah tipped his hand regarding his greatness when he came into the 2015 season as the reigning 2-year-old champion male.

He proceeded to shatter every expectation that came with that title, winning seven of eight starts in 2015 by a combined winning margin of 36  1/2 lengths.

His sweet, pet-like personality around the barn was in stark contrast to the ruthless runner who would do whatever Espinoza asked of him with freakish ease. No single triumph moved a sport more than American Pharoah’s 5 1/2 length, gate-to-wire coronation in the Belmont Stakes which, along with his sublime outings in Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, anointed him as just the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

His lone defeat came in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 29 when he tired after being pressed by fellow Grade I winner Frosted and was caught in deep stretch by Keen Ice. His last start before retiring to Ashford Stud would be a microcosm of his career, however, as he led every point of call in the Breeders’ Cup Classic en route to a 6  1/2 length triumph.

“You know in order to go down as an all-time great you have to beat older horses and American Pharoah did that on the greatest stage and in the biggest stage in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” said Justin Zayat, racing manager of Zayat Stables. “I’m so thankful for this horse. Thank you American Pharoah, we love you.”

American Pharoah retired with nine wins from 11 starts and $8,650,300 in earnings.

While American Pharoah and his team owned the night, they were not alone in dominating their competition.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Songbird earned all but one first-place vote in being named champion 2-year-old filly while her unbeaten counterpart Nyquist, hero of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, garnered 255 first-place votes in being named champion 2-year-old male.

The 3-year-old filly division was a wide-open affair that saw Grade I winner Stellar Wind prevail with 108 first-place votes. There was no such drama with champion older dirt female, though, as Spendthrift Farm’s Beholder took home the honors with 256 first-place votes, earning her third career Eclipse Award.

Honor Code, who is from the final crop of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, added to his father’s legacy when he bested Liam’s Map to earn the Eclipse Award for champion older dirt male.

Breeders’ Cup Sprint victor Runhappy was an emphatic pick for champion male sprinter while La Verdad edged Wavell Avenue by eight votes to win champion female sprinter.

Multiple Grade I winner Tepin, who bested males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, became the first Eclipse Award victor for her trainer Mark Casse as she took champion turf female honors with 211 first-place votes.

Tyler Gaffalione was named Outstanding Apprentice Jockey while Dawalan was named champion Steeplechase Horse.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

The voting

2-Year-Old Male: Nyquist 255; Mohaymen 3; abstentions 3.

2-Year-Old Filly: Songbird 260; Catch a Glimpse 1.

3-Year-Old Male: American Pharoah 261.

3-Year-Old Filly: Stellar Wind 108; I’m a Chatterbox 47; Found 46; Lady Eli 34; Lovely Maria 12; Curalina 11; Include Betty 2; abstentions 1.

Older Dirt Male: Honor Code 126; Liam’s Map 95; Tonalist 14; Effinex 12; Shared Belief 9; California Chrome 3; abstentions 2.

Older Dirt Female: Beholder 256; Stopchargingmaria 4; Sheer Drama 1.

Male Sprinter: Runhappy 255; Private Zone 2; Rock Fall 2; Mongolian Saturday 1; Secret Circle 1.

Female Sprinter: La Verdad 98; Wavell Avenue 90; Lady Shipman 41; Cavorting 19; Unbridled Forever 5; Ageless 1; Birdonthewire 1; Fantastic Style 1; abstentions 5.

Male Turf Horse: Big Blue Kitten 134; Golden Horn 63; The Pizza Man 41; Flintshire 18; Chiropractor 1; Grand Arch 1;abstentions 3.

Female Turf Horse: Tepin 211; Found 38; Stephanie’s Kitten 8; Lady Eli 2; Curvy 1; abstentions 1.

Steeplechase Horse: Dawalan 165; Bob Le Beau 47; African Oil 2; Demonstrative 2; Grinding Speed 1; abstentions 44.

Owner: Zayat Stables 220; Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey 26; Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. 6; Reddam Racing 2; Godolphin Racing 1; abstentions 6.

Breeder: Zayat Stables 190; Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey 39; Darley 13; WinStar Farm 5; Adena Springs 4; Spendthrift Farm 1; Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings 1; abstentions 8.

Trainer: Bob Baffert 200; Todd Pletcher 44; Chad Brown 12; Karl Broberg 1; Jerry Hollendorfer 1; abstentions 3.

Jockey: Javier Castellano 184; Victor Espinoza 70; Joe Bravo 1; Pedro Monterrey Jr. 1; Irad Ortiz Jr. 1; Joel Rosario 1; John Velazquez 1; abstentions 2.

Apprentice Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione 149; Eric Cancel 63; Angel Cruz 9; Ashley Broussard 6; David Lopez 3; Jorge Robles 1; abstentions 30.

Horse of the Year: American Pharoah 261.

Eclipse Award winners

2-Year-Old Male: Nyquist

2-Year-Old Filly: Songbird

3-Year-Old Male: American Pharoah

3-Year-Old Filly: Stellar Wind

Older Dirt Male: Honor Code

Older Dirt Female: Beholder

Male Sprinter: Runhappy

Female Sprinter: La Verdad

Male Turf Horse: Big Blue Kitten

Female Turf Horse: Tepin

Steeplechase Horse: Dawalan

Owner: Zayat Stables

Breeder: Zayat Stables

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Apprentice Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Horse of the Year: American Pharoah